What is (in) an accent?

If you are a speaker of a second language, you might have already listened to comments about your accent. The way we say the words is the primary instance of judgments concerning our language abilities. When we learn English, for example, we know if our teacher speaks British English, American English or Australian English and we spend years trying to speak as a native. The question is, why is it so important to speak as a native? What does an accent carry with it to be hated so much?

Well, let’s start clarifying the difference between accent and pronunciation. Pronunciation is, according to the Oxford Living Dictionary: “The way in which a word is pronounced”, while accent is: “A distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class”. This means that having an accent is not related to the rightness or wrongness of speaking a language, it is rather a different way to speak a language.

Studies in linguistics show that everybody has an accent, and, as stated above, it can be related with diverse cultural factors. One of these factors is the social status of the language. In English, for example, we have the Standard English as the most valuable accent because it shows that the speaker learned the language in a formal way, such as language courses, private lessons or immersion, indicating, thus inferring in a higher social status. On the other hand, someone who learned English without having contact with native speakers will, most likely, have a stronger accent, and, therefore will be associated to a lower social status.

When a foreign speaks a language with an accent, it shows a lot about this person and it is deeply connected to our identities, because it shows who we are beyond the strict language abilities. It is also a way to demonstrate how a language can be alive and used differently among different people. Having an accent should not be in anyway a matter of shame or depreciation, it should, actually, be a reason to be proud of our cultural roots and abilities of learning a new language.  

So, now get your accent and come to speak and learn with us at WLS.

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